Education

O’Fallon fifth-grader honored for saving cousin’s life

From left, Terry Schneider (Grandfather); Jason Vahle (Father); Jacob; Lynae Vahle (Mother); and Barb Schneider (Grandmother).
From left, Terry Schneider (Grandfather); Jason Vahle (Father); Jacob; Lynae Vahle (Mother); and Barb Schneider (Grandmother).

Jacob Vahle truly is a hero.

Jacob, the 10-year-old son of Jason and Lynae Vahle, saved the life of his 5-year-old cousin, Garrison Schneider, during a Father’s Day outing this past summer. Garrison, who cannot swim independently, fell into the deep end of the swimming pool fully clothed without a floating device.

Ever alert, Jacob saved Garrison and, for his heroic actions, was honored as one of the top 10 recipients for October’s prestigious Do the Right Thing awards last week at the St. Louis County Council Chambers in Clayton, Mo.

“I was nervous going up there, but I loved it,” said Jacob of the awards ceremony. “I was proud when I saw mom and grandma crying in the audience.”

He is a fifth-grader at Delores Moye Elementary School in O’Fallon.

As far as how it felt to save his cousin, Jacob said, “Proud, nervous, panicked. I am happy that I saved him.”

“Our family was so proud, and we know that it could have been a different outcome for my brother’s son if Jacob wouldn’t have acted,” said Lynae, a second-grade teacher at Moye. “We have always seen something special in Jacob’s character. He has always been gentle, kind hearted and a friend to everyone. At times of sadness, he has been a source of compassion and encouragement for our family. As a brother to two younger siblings (Jack, 8, and Kierstin, 4), he is always on guard and protective. I have always asked him to be a second pair of eyes for me, because if there is a tragedy we may not be able to ever bring them back.”

“Jacob is a selfless young man,” father Jason said. “Although I am proud of him and his actions, I was not surprised. He is always willing to lend a hand and he asks for nothing in return. Be it shoveling neighbors’ driveways in the winter or spreading mulch in the summer, his character is incomparable to most kids his age.”

Added Garrison’s father, Erik Schneider: “Jake’s quick thinking allowed him to pull my son from the water. We’re proud of him.”

Of note, neighbor and former Miss O’Fallon Brittany Gray comes to the Vahle household to teach swimming techniques to their children, including lifesaving techniques. Needless to say, those lessons proved vital.

“Brittany had been working with me on lifesaving techniques, so I just did it,” Jacob said. “I knew if I didn’t jump in, Garrison would have died, because he does not know how to swim. I don’t even remember yelling his name.”

Added Gray: “Jake has always been a dedicated swim student. He is always looking to improve his skills and is hard working. He is a bright young man and has a big heart. I was so proud of Jake when he told me what happened, but I wasn’t surprised. Jake definitely strives to do the right thing in all he does.”

Overall, Jacob was chosen out of hundreds of nominees to be recognized at the event sponsored by St. Louis City and County Police Departments, Southern Illinois Police Chiefs Association, KMOV-Channel 4, St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, Commerce Bank, McDonald’s, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital of Belleville, Memorial Hospital of Belleville, Sigma-Aldrich, Whalen Security, the Magic House, St. Louis Science Center, Education Plus, Lindenwood University-Belleville Campus and St. Louis Snow Cone.

The program is designed to recognize and reward area youth who have distinguished themselves by exhibiting positive character traits. Jacob received a certificate, a $25 dollar Visa card, four passes to the Magic House, certificates for McDonald’s, a sponsor T-shirt and several other prizes.

Jacob is a selfless young man. Although I am proud of him and his actions, I was not surprised. He is always willing to lend a hand and he asks for nothing in return. Be it shoveling neighbors’ driveways in the winter or spreading mulch in the summer, his character is incomparable to most kids his age.

Jason Vahle, Jacob’s father

Moreover, Jacob was nominated by his mother for his courage and bravery which resulted in saving his cousin’s life.

As Lynae explained, whenever the family attends baseball games, swimming parties or just play dates at the park, Jacob always takes on the responsibility of entertaining and watching the younger children — over playing with peers his own age. Lynae said he is patient and caring with the younger children and parents often compliment his willingness and skill at keeping the little ones safe.

Furthermore, on Father’s Day this summer, Jason and Lynae had their family over for a day by the pool. Everyone had a great day and all of the children were safe with their floating devices on all day. At the conclusion of the party, everyone returned to dry clothes and was packing up to head home.

That’s when tragedy would have struck without Jacob’s heroism. Garrison fell into the deep end of the swimming pool fully clothed without a floating device. All adults were out of the pool cleaning up, with no direct attention to the pool. However, Jacob was on his guard of the little ones.

He yelled his cousin’s name — which gained the adults’ attention — and he grabbed his sinking arms to attempt to pull him out of the pool to safety. Garrison was too heavy for him, so Jacob instinctively jumped in behind him and pushed Garrison’s head above the surface of the water. It all happened so quickly, and Jacob had Garrison’s head above water before the adults were able to get to the pool.

Lynae then was able to pull him out with Jacob’s assistance.

“You always read about unfortunate circumstances with young children around water,” Lynae said. “On this day, it became clear just how fast accidents can happen. Although there were six adults less than 10 feet from the water and my nephew, his fall and Jacob’s rescue happened in less than 30 seconds. As a teacher who has nominated multiple students in the past for displaying outstanding character, I conferred with (Delores Moye Principal Becky Williams), who encouraged me to nominate Jacob.

“Jacob is a child with outstanding character and on this day he let it shine by doing the right thing. He truly saved Garrison’s life.”

Lynae also noted Jacob’s character was on display at the awards ceremony. Moreover, a fellow nominee was sitting next to him and at the age of 4, she was too small to keep the chair from folding up on her, so Jacob secured the chair by placing his leg on the corner to give it more weight. When Ronald McDonald asked Jacob to come up to help him with some magic tricks, Jacob declined in order to keep the girl safe in her seat. Later, he told his parents he wanted to participate, but he wanted to help the little girl more.

Besides Lynae and Jason, Jacob’s grandparents Barb and Terry Schneider attended the awards ceremony, along with Williams.

The event was emceed by Courtney Bryant, News 4 St. Louis Anchor, and Col. Jon Belmar and Major Kenneth Kegel with the St. Louis County Police Department helped present the awards.

“Jacob is a very kind, thoughtful boy,” Williams said. “He is also very humble. When we heard that Jacob was receiving a Top Ten Do the Right Thing Award, one of the teachers asked him what he had done to earn this honor. Jacob said that he played hockey and did his best in school, downplaying the importance of his role in saving his cousin’s life. Also, Jacob always has a big smile on his face...a good friend to all.”

Moving forward, as a member of the Southern Illinois Ice Hawks hockey team, Jacob eagerly anticipates the opening of the new rink near his family’s house. But could a lifeguard career be in the cards?

“Brittany wants me to be a swimmer and a lifeguard, like her, when I grow up, because she thinks I am great at it,” Jacob said. “But, I want to be a hockey player.”

Jacob will be recognized by the O’Fallon District 90 School Board on Nov. 17 at its meeting at the District Office, 118 E. Washington St., O’Fallon.

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